Saturday, February 18, 2017

Despite Trump, coal is on the way out

President Trump signed an order on Thursday, Feb 16 to overturn the Stream Protection Rule. This rule was designed to prevent coal companies from dumping their mining waste into rivers by restricting mining within 100 feet of a waterway. Trump stated his action would "eliminate another terrible job-killing rule, saving many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines." Of course, anyone paying attention has learned that Trump has great difficulty in getting his facts straight and this action is another example of it.

A study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found the rule would have eliminated approximately 260 jobs a year, not 'many thousands.' But, at the same time, it would have created about 250 jobs a year. Overall, the rule would have been about breakeven on jobs. Which just goes to show, you can justify anything by stating you want to save jobs, even if it isn't true. So, Trump's action will hurt the watershed, the environment and the people living downstream. The things that will benefit? Nothing. Not even coal. Trump did this to appease his coal mining friends. Interestingly, that CRS study also stated overall employment in the coal industry would continue to drop and would lose around 15,000 jobs of the current 90,000 in the sector between 2020 and 2040. I think it will be much higher. Read on to see why.

The truth is, Trump can't do anything to stop the decline of coal. In fact, Trump himself will be working hard to do just that. He has promised to overturn rules on the oil and gas industry to make it easier for them to drill. Coal's biggest enemy isn't the EPA - it's cheap gas. And, Trump is going to make sure gas stays cheap.

And, ironically, OPEC is helping out as well. OPEC recently caved and reached an output agreement to prop up the price of oil. This is already resulting in a second boom of fracking. The drill rig count for last April was 132 but has risen to 301 today. But, the story is the rigs are more advanced and efficient and they can each do more than the old ones. So, the disparity in the numbers doesn't reflect the true situation. Estimates are the US oil production will increase from 8.9 million barrels of oil per day currently to between 9.5 and 9.7 million barrels per day by the end of 2018. And, along with the increase in oil production will come an increase in natural gas production. 

Even some conservative Republicans are getting into the act. Last Wednesday (the day before Trump signed his coal mining order), the Climate Leadership Council unveiled their plan for a gradually increasing, revenue-neutral tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Proceeds from the tax would be redistributed to the people. This plan is specifically designed to reduce CO2 emissions and address climate change. So, even conservative Republicans are saying there's a problem and we need to act. The plan has been well-received, but I have to be skeptical it will get passed by Congress. Too many members of Congress received funds from the coal industry to vote for something like this. But, the very announcement makes it more difficult for coal. Things are shifting when even Republicans admit manmade climate change is real and needs to be addressed. That doesn't bode well for coal.

And, to make it even worse, renewable energy is surging. 

The number of solar cell installations in 2016 were up 95% over the number in 2015. The numbers nearly doubled in only one year.  By the way, if Trump really is interested in creating jobs, the solar industry employs 260,000 people and the coal industry employs only 90,000. 

And, last Sunday, February 12 saw wind power briefly account for over 50% of the electricity generated in the US.  

So, the coal industry is surely celebrating Trump's action on the Stream Protection Rule. But, during that same week, reports came out showing renewable energy sources are continuing to increase their share of the market, reports came out showing natural gas production is surging again and even conservative Republicans said we need to reduce CO2 emissions. Overall, it wasn't a great week for the coal industry.

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